1976 Soweto Uprising
By Jordan Springer
South Africa is an amazing country that is well-known throughout the world. While it is known for many reasons, the unfortunate truth is that the thing that defines South Africa to the world is the former apartheid government which plagued the country through most of recent history. Luckily, that style of government was eradicated in South Africa through a combination of the acts of civilians and the acts of politicians. Like most great changes in history, it had something that sparked the need for the change. In South Africa’s case, this incident was the uprising in Soweto in 1976.
The initial uprising occurred on the 16th of June, and it began with the students. Frustrated by certain laws put in place by the racist government that limited the ability at which black students could learn, around ten thousand black students of the Soweto township marched through Johannesburg as a demonstration. However, it wasn’t the march that helped initiate the final struggle against apartheid. It was what happened to those who marched. The police responded to the march by first using tear gas and then actual bullets. When fired upon, the students responded by running for cover and throwing rocks at the policemen. It is estimated that five hundred and fifty six students were killed during the protests. June 16th is now a national holiday, known as “youth day” and on this day, the uprising and those who died for it are remembered.
Though there were many reasons, one of the main reasons for the students’ uprising was the Bantu Education Act, which racially segregated schools. It put control of black education with the government rather than with missionaries, therefore introducing apartheid into schools. Even their textbooks included stereotypes. In addition to this, there was a large difference in the amount of resources spent on white students versus black students. For example, only 42 rand were spent on a black student annually versus the 644 rand for a white student. However, this was introduced in 1953, more than two decades before the uprising. The final straw was the 50-50 language rule. This meant that Afrikaans, the language used by the white Africans, had to be used just as much as English, which was the language spoken by the black Africans. As many of the black Africans did not speak Afrikaans, it severely limited their learning ability as well as the number of teachers available to them.
This act also produced one of the most impacting images of the time period: a picture of a fellow student carrying the dying Hector Pieterson. Hector Pieterson was one of the first students to be killed when the police fired on the marchers. He was only twelve at the time of his death . June 16th is now a national holiday, known as “youth day” and on this day, the uprising and those who died for it are remembered. After this, more students across the country were inspired and rebelled, boycotting their classes and fighting police. This eventually caused a country-wide revolution against the government. This uprising helped to show reluctant South Africans the power of the citizen and the horrors of apartheid.